If you’re just getting started with astrophotography, it can be difficult to know exactly what equipment that you need. No only can it be difficult, but it can also be extremely overwhelming. This is especially true if you had no experience with photography, either.
Fortunately nowadays, you don’t need an abundance of different equipment for photography. In fact, if you want to get started without spending a penny, you could consider just starting out by taking night sky pictures on your phone. Sure, you’re not going to get the full experience, but it can give you a good idea about whether you’re looking to take astrophotography seriously or not.
Many people will tell you that astronomy in general is a rich persons hobby. And if you’re wanting to expert photographs, then yes – this can be very expensive (typically costing thousands of dollars). But for beginners, you don’t need to spend this much to get some awesome shots of the Milkyway. So, let’s have a look at some of the essential astrophotography equipment that you’re going to need if you want to take pictures of the night sky.
Astrophotography Equipment – What you need
- Camera (a good DSLR)
- Camera Lenses for Astrophotography
- A mount
- A camera tripod
- A Remote Time Shutter
- T Ring Adapter
I’m sure this can seem overwhelming at first, but like I said, for beginners you only really need a camera. So, let’s start by having a look at what type of camera you should purchase for Astrophotography.
The camera that you get will ultimately depend on your budget. If you’re new to astronomy, then any good DSLR should get the job done pretty well. I personally like the D3400, but there are a ton of other good cameras out there too.
Most people go way overboard when purchasing a camera for astrophotography. But in my opinion, you don’t want to jump in at the deep end and purchase a $2000 camera that you’re never going to use. That’s why I recommend most to start taking photos on their phone for a month or so to see how they get used to it, then consider getting an entry level DSLR.
The good thing about DSLR’s is that they tend to hold their value extremely well. In terms of specifications, you aren’t going to see a ton of difference between a $300 and a $700 DSLR. So, it makes sense to opt for the cheaper option at first and then maybe level up to an expensive camera when you feel more comfortable.
A camera isn’t complete without a good quality lens too – in fact, many people will tell you that the lens is even more important than the camera itself! A nice lens will give you the ability to increase your focal length, which is a necessity for astrophotography. Personally, I’d always advise getting a quality 50mm lens to start with.
Why? Well there are a few reasons why I’d recommend you pick up a 50mm lens. Firstly, it’s great for astrophotography, but it’s also a good choice of lens for other things too like portrait photography. Secondly, a common 50mm lens is lightweight extremely portable, which make them good for travelling with – important when you’re an astrophotographer. And finally, price! You can pick up a good 50mm for $100 if you search around, so you’re not breaking the bank on a lens that you’re not 100% sure on.
Of course, there are a ton of other astrophotography lenses available that you might want to consider trying. If you want to take landscape pictures, then you can look at something smaller (24mm is my preference). If you want something more zoomed in, then you can look at an 80mm lens.
When you get used to taking landscape astrophotography pictures, there might come a time when you want to upgrade and start using a telescope. It’s important to note that the best telescope for regular viewing doesn’t necessarily make the best telescope for astrophotography.
For example, for astrophotography I prefer to use an apochromatic refractor. The main reason that I like this type of telescope is that it reduces chromatic aberration significantly. But when I’m thinking about telescopes for beginners, or even the most convenient telescopes, then Dobsonians and other refractors spring to mind. You can check out a couple of my favorite astrophotography telescopes for beginners and intermediates.
As well as a telescope, of course you’re going to need a mount to use it on. This is likely to be one of your more expensive purchases, as good mounts are seldom found below $500, and often cost upwards of 4 figures.
For this, we don’t want to use an Alt/az mount (Altazimuth), which is the typical mount that you’re going to find. Instead, we want the other type of popular mount – an equatorial mount – of which the most common type is the GEM (German Equatorial Mount). This is because with an Alt/az, your pictures are going to suffer from field rotation.
Of course, no one is expecting you to shell out expensive money on a mount when you’re just a beginner. Your best bet would be to make your own mount. Check out barn-door-tracker.co.uk if you want to see a good guide on making your own mount. If you have the cash to spend, then the best mount for beginners is the Celestron AVX
I know, I know – the costs are adding up. But, these aren’t all necessities, more luxuries. You can make do with just a camera, so don’t get too worried about all this additional stuff. Saying that, a tripod will make it significantly easier for you to keep things steady.
Don’t go out and spend a fortune on a tripod – it’s not necessary when you can pick a cheap one up second hand for a relatively good price. Or, you can head over to Amazon and pick up a cheap tripod . This is one of the best ways to get started with astrophotography – just a budget DSLR and a tripod.
Remote Time Shutter
Although not necessary when you’re a total beginner, one of the first pieces people often pick up when they’re purchasing astronomy equipment is a remote time shutter. Exactly as it sounds, this allows you open and close the shutter on your camera without touching it yourself. By doing it yourself, you risk the chance of blurred images due to the vibration and movement of you touching the camera.
T Ring Adapter
A T Ring adapter, or a T Mount adapter, is essentially for connecting your camera and your telescope together. If you don’t purchase this, then you’re going to have to hold the camera up to the telescope manually by yourself. Using a T Ring Adapter is an easy way to attach certain lenses to your camera, too.
As you gain more experience, there are other things that you might want to consider adding to your astrophotography collection. As most astrophotographers can attest to, you’ll begin to build up a big variety of different things that you’ll use throughout the years. Here’s a few other pieces of astrophotography equipment that you’re likely to end up picking up later along the way.
Light pollution filter
A light pollution filter is always a good idea for helping with emission nebula. For those people who are adamant in trying to view the night sky in the city, then light pollution filters are essential. Personally, I’d recommend beginners always find a clear night sky when they’re taking pictures and also for telescope viewing too.
Back in the day, you didn’t need to consider what software you were using along with your photos. And to a certain extent still today, this shouldn’t be at the forefront of your mind. This is especially true if you’re a beginner. I know it can be exciting using Adobe to make your pictures look amazing, but it’s best to get the hang of the essentials of astrophotography first. If you use Apple, then I’ve looked at some of the best astrophotography software available too – I usually head to macobservatory.com, which has a great list of the best Mac software.
Most cameras, especially entry level ones, aren’t going to last you the whole night. So, it makes sense that you get yourself a spare power pack for your camera that will ensure you won’t be driving home early.
If you’re out in the dark all night, then it’s only reasonable that your telescope is going to gather some moisture. The objective of a dew heater is to combat this, and help prevent moisture building up in the telescope. Depending on what telescope you use, you’ll want to opt for different dew heaters.
When you get a telescope, you’ll definitely want to get some accessories that can help with the magnification of your telescope. Typically, the first things that you’ll want to pick up are a good quality barlow lens and a collection of telescope eyepieces. This way, you’ll easily be able to see further into the distance to get some good pictures.
Overall, these are the most important things you’ll want to consider if you’re going to get into astrophotography full time. You don’t need to purchase all of these things straight away, and you can build up your collection of equipment over months and even years to have everything that you really need. Of course, astrophotography equipment is expensive, so you need to ensure that you’re taking proper care of anything that you purchase.
But in general, getting a good DSLR and a tripod is all you really need to get some awesome landscape photos. After you feel comfortable with this, then you can upgrade to using a telescope too to get the best pictures possible.
Last update on 2020-01-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API